Jeanette A. Tucker, Merrill, Thomas A. | 9/7/2005 9:05:01 PM
Con artists unfortunately will be looking for ways to take advantage of the suffering and confusion in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, cautions LSU AgCenter family economist Dr. Jeanette Tucker.
"You should be very cautious about doing business with individuals or firms you are not familiar with," Tucker said, adding, "That’s just one of the important ways to protect yourself."
In an example of one type of problem, the LSU AgCenter expert says offenders may pose as building inspectors or utility company employees, and she points out that legitimate inspectors are required to carry identification and will show it to you upon demand.
"If you don’t know what the ID badge or license should look like, contact the Department of Public Works or other appropriate regulatory authorities," Tucker said, adding that you also can check the government pages of your phone directory for information and numbers to call to verify identification. "Thieves posing as utility repair persons or building inspectors often wait until they are alone in a room or another area of your home and then steal whatever they find."
Turning to other potential scams, Tucker says people also may steal from you under the pretense of helping you with finances.
"If you need help arranging for a loan or completing a loan application, it is best to contact the lending institution for assistance," the family economist explained, adding that you can trust the people working at banks, credit unions and savings and loans and that those people generally are happy to be able to help. The Small Business Administration also may be willing to assist consumers, depending on the type of loan requested.
"Just keep in mind to walk away from any individual or company who attempts to charge you a fee to fill out an application or arrange for a loan," Tucker said.
The family economist also says to be cautious when giving to charities collecting for a recent disaster.
"Relief agencies will need an infusion of donations to be able to deal effectively with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina," Tucker explained. "While we all want to help those in need, verify that the charity you are giving to is legitimate."
Any charitable organization that solicits money from the public must be registered, according to Tucker, who says you can search for information to determine charities that are well-run and worthy of your support.
Charity evaluators, such as Charity Navigator, work to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America’s largest charities. To learn how much a charity really gives to the cause in comparison to how much goes to fundraising or administrative expenses, and for a peer comparison of similar organizations, visit www.charitynavigator.org.
"When contributing, be certain to make your check or money order out to the charitable organization, not to the person collecting the donation," Tucker cautions.
To ensure that contributions made electronically to nonprofit organizations are used for intended purposes, go directly to recognized charities and aid organizations’ Web sites, as opposed to following a link to another site.
In addition, Tucker says to be cautious of electronic requests for charitable donations.
"Do not respond to any unsolicited (SPAM) incoming e-mails," Tucker advised. "Legitimate charities do not solicit funds in this manner."
The expert also says to be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, since those files may contain computer viruses.
"Open attachments from known senders only."
Finally, Tucker stresses the importance of filing a claim with your insurance company – even if you think the claim will be denied.
"Not filing may prevent you from receiving Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds," she explained. "In some cases, disaster victims find that they do not have insurance specifically for the disaster they experienced, but other policies they do have may cover a portion of their losses."